Ugandan okra farmer achieves year-round harvests with solar irrigation, improved agronomic practices

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One northwestern Ugandan okra farmer has mastered the art of growing the vegetable by adopting advanced agronomical practices such as pruning, mulching, ridge planting and disease and pests control and the use of quality seeds and solar irrigation for all year-round harvests and market supply.

Joseph Nyakuni started growing several vegetables some years back on guesswork since he lacked the knowledge and skills about vegetable farming.

However, currently, the farmer who is implementing advanced horticultural methods and modern technologies to enable him grow vegetables, especially okra, in all seasons says this has also kept his earnings steady thanks to growing market demand and hands-on training by  East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer( EWS-KT), a foundation that supports farmers with technical knowledge and skills.

“I started by copying what the surrounding farmers were doing but later on, I realised EWS-KT was offering vegetable production training at the nearby Omugo Subcounty headquarters in Terego District which I attended and began learning some new methods of growing okra, tomato, cabbage, cowpea, and collard greens among others,” said Nyakuni.

He also got in touch with Agnes Eyotaru, EWS-KT technical field officer who advised him to gather surrounding farmers into a group to also help them benefit from further trainings.

“I then looked for a farm near a river and decided to grow okra as my lead crop which I got to set its demo farm from where other smallholder farmers would learn,” said the enterprising vegetable farmer.

Okra farming techniques

Nyakuni says he has learned different okra growing techniques such as planting in a zig-zag format, proper and timely fertilizer application, pruning of the plants to achieve good-quality yields and the use of high-quality seeds that are resistant to diseases.

“I have acquired the skill to independently administer fertilizers, possess knowledge about mulching, planting on ridges, and spacing of okra and other vegetables. Additionally, I’ve gained expertise in identifying and managing pests and diseases, understanding different pesticides and fungicides, and using them effectively,” he said.

He has also transitioned from hand watering using cans during dry seasons to acquiring a solar irrigation system that do not limit him to the amount he can grow.

“I got the solar system on loan thanks to Alivu Initiative, a village savings group composed of farmers and which I belong. Here we save on a weekly basis for a joint income source from which we can get affordable loans to facilitate our production.”

African lady finger variety

Though Nyakuni does not specify why he chose okra, most farmers in Uganda have adopted the crop, especially the African lady finger (ALF) variety owing to its resilience to tough conditions, early maturity and economic returns.

According to market reports from the country, the new okra variety fetches Sh6,000 a kilo being farm-gate price something that is causing a gradual shift from the common crops like maize and beans which fetch between Sh1,200 and Sh2,500 a kilo respectively.

It also matures in 90 days and it can yield up to 2.5 and 3 tonnes per acre depending on the prevailing weather conditions and crop management practices.

It does well on black and loam soils in the western, Eastern and northern regions of Uganda. Agronomy starts from tilling the land, before treating the holes with organic manure. Spacing of two feet between the holes and two feet between the lines is recommended.

On fertile soil, okra grows to as high as one-and-a-half metres; however, spraying starts as early as the plants are still young to keep off grasshoppers, mites and caterpillars.

Health benefits

Okra is in high demand among customers because it is believed that when consumed it helps in reducing diabetes and high blood pressure in ailing patients.